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All Faith Service: Seeking Unity, Living with an Open Heart

All Faith Service: Seeking Unity, Living with an Open Heart

“O God, you have taught us if we are open to one another, you dwell in us. Help us to realize that there can be no understanding where there is mutual rejection. Remind us that joyful unexpected things happen when living with an open heart. Give us the courage to embrace your love.” — Thomas Merton

The theme for the University of San Diego’s 24th annual All Faith Service on Thursday was “A Call to Unity: Living with an Open Heart.”

All Faith Service 2017

“The choice of this theme was prompted by so many divisions and a lack of unity that we experience in many aspects of society and our world. It is our desire to move beyond all of those by acknowledging and respecting what is different,” Monsignor Daniel J. Dillabough said during his welcoming message to the Shiley Theatre audience. “We honor and respect the diversity of religious traditions and we acknowledge that by our being together today that the uniqueness of each tradition enriches us.”

The program featured a Native American blessing, a Jewish story, a Hindu dance, a Christian reflection, a Buddhist chant and an Islamic Sema. Each offering was followed by an intercession prayer spoken by seniors Jayda Gonzales (Native American), Shalin Shah (Hindu) and Bethany Mok (Christian), graduate student Monica Schnapp (Jewish), and sophomores Katherine Spahr (Buddhist) and Anas Salah (Islamic). Founders Chapel Cantors and seniors Michael Franklin and Emma Von Tscharner sang the musical response between each offering and the USD Wind Ensemble, directed by Jeffrey Malecki, played a processional and recessional song. 

Each presentation was a poignant and heart-warming expression of the All Faith Service theme. 

  • Michael Madrigal, a member of the Cahuilla tribe from the Cahuilla Indian Reservation near Anza, Calif., presented the Native American Prayer for Unity and Respect. Native American prayers are considered a call to recognize the unity of all creation and, thus, the need to open one’s heart, mind and spirit to the reality of interdependence. 
  • Alka Shah, Bhavika Maniar and Kosha Rakohlia, performed a Hindu Ekbhava (unity) dance to called “Vaishnav Jan To,” which was a favorite devotional song of Mahatma Gandhi. The premise is that a true devotee feels another’s pain and helps others in their sorrows. He adopts the entire human family as his own and so works for the liberation of others. 
  • The Buddhist chant, which included the Venerable Ani Dolma and Venerable Ani Tanzin, was a prayer that embodied a call to unity by praying that all people have happiness, joy, equanimity, and to be free from suffering. 
  • The Islamic Sema, a prayer that serves as a ritual of remembrance within Sufi culture, was a beautifully whirling and graceful dance by Natalie Nayun as Amir Etemadzadeh provided a scintillating, rhythmic beat with a daf, one of the oldest frame drums in Middle Eastern culture. 

Two USD Theology and Religious Studies professors, Aaron Gross and Christopher Carter, delivered Jewish and Christian contributions, respectively. 

“It’s an important time to talk about unity, about what that means — and what it doesn’t mean,” Gross said afterward. “To name some specific injustices … a service like this is a place to prayerfully address realities like racism, sexism and Islamophobia in a way that really fits with USD’s values as a religious institution.” 

Gross spoke of ancient rabbis who created Judaism as it is known today and that there are distinctions between a unity of community and agreement over questions of ethics and practice that conclude that arguments for the sake of heaven endure and that some contradictory views both reveal the divine. 

Gross noted late Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s views on prayer: “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramid of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow forces that continue to destroy the promise, the vision, the hope.” 

Carter’s Christian reflection particularly resonated. “I wanted to speak to what’s within our tradition, within the Christian tradition that I feel is a resource. I was trying to remind us all that if we could merely look at it, believe it, actualize it, if we could actually do that, that could give us the passion to try and discern what living with an open heart looks like and what unity looks like. We have the tools; it’s just about actually using those tools.” 

He examined common and committed relationships and that they need to consist of openness, for people to be vulnerable, open to the risk of being hurt, thus enabling authenticity. 

“Living with an open heart is living in and embodying a love that is vulnerable, a love that takes risks, a love that does not give into the temptation of fear, but rather finds its strength in the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ,” Carter said. 

Carter delved deeper. “But is that kind of love enough? Is that love for family, friends and those in your immediate community enough to convince yourself that you are truly living with an open heart? Is it enough to feel confident that if you are Christian that you are living and loving as a Christian ought to?” 

Referencing theologian Howard Thurman, Carter said Christians need to abandon three ideologies — fear, deception and hate — that limit living and loving with an open heart. Fear affects the capacity to love, can become a safety device and can cause one to insulate their conscious against a sense of wrongdoing. Fear can lead to troubling reactions. 

“Fear may keep you alive, but fear does not allow you to live,” Carter said. “When we love thy neighbor as we love ourselves, when we do this, then we will be living with an open heart, then we will call ourselves Christians and we’ll finally be able to faithfully answer our call to unity.” 

— Ryan T. Blystone

Photos by Nick Abadilla

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